On Saturday, Nov. 6, 1869, Rutgers and New Jersey (later known as Princeton) played in the first American intercollegiate football game.

Almost 23 years later, on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 1892, two teams — and a giant generator — got together for another revolutionary moment in the sport: The first American football game at night.

Here’s how it happened:

Mansfield vs. Wyoming Seminary, 1892

While the first incandescent light was invented in 1802, electric lights weren’t truly commercially widespread until the 1870s. 

In 1892, the town of Mansfield, Pennsylvania was hosting its 13th annual county fair, officially known as the Tioga County Agricultural, Mechanical and Industrial Fair. According to the local newspaper at the time, the Mansfield Advertiser, approximately 18,000 to 20,000 people attended that edition.

The newspaper’s recounting of the fair includes some wonderful highlights, such as:

‘The peanut man sang himself hoarse, but he sold peanuts just the same.’

‘The music instrument booths, as usual, were a never failing attraction in the main building.’

‘The cattle and horse show was fine.’

But there is one that sticks out:

‘The foot ball game by electric light was a novelty not often seen at fairs.’

In fact, a “foot ball game by electric light” was a novelty not seen anywhere before that night.

According to a program published by Mansfield University of Pennsylvania in 1992, the idea for the game originated from the players on Mansfield’s football team, which had its inaugural season in 1891. 

The team joined forces with the General Electric Company, which was showcasing a new electric light setup at that year’s fair. They would promote the new sport and the newer lights at the biggest event of the year.

Here’s an excerpt detailing that exhibition, from the Mansfield Advertiser:

‘The electric light dynamo which is to be used to illuminate the fair grounds is a Thomson-Houston Machine of thirty light capacity. It weighs 4300 pounds, and the generator, containing miles of insulated copper wire, makes nearly a thousand revolutions a minute. The lights to be used are twenty lamps of 2000 candle power and five 64-candle incandescent lights. The power to operate the dynamo is to be furnished by Messrs. Day & Warters from their 20-horse engine. The plant is in charge of H. E. Varney, of Philadelphia, and J. L. Cummings, of this boro.’

The game itself was scheduled for 7:30 at night, but actually began at 6:45 p.m. Lights were stationed on poles around the perimeter of the field, and one light pole stood in the middle of the playing field.

Wyoming Seminary donned white uniforms, hoping they would reflect light better and be more visible. Mansfield opted for all-black for the first time in their program’s history. To be fair, their program had played just four games before this matchup (but was 3-1 in 1891).

You can get a good idea of the setup thanks to this 1992 Monday Night Football commercial, by General Electric, of a recreation of the game: